An Update on The Cumberland Horses Suit

By Lauri deGaris

On April 12, 2023, the horses of Cumberland Island — in their own right, along with the Georgia Equine Rescue League, LTD; The Georgia Horse Council, Inc.; Will Harlan; and Carol Ruckdeschel — filed a lawsuit against Honorable Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior; Mark Foust, Director of South Atlantic-Gulf Region National Park Service; and Gary Ingram, Superintendent, Cumberland Island National Seashore, in Federal Court, Northern District of Georgia, in Atlanta.

The civil action seeks a permanent injunction directing the National Park Service and the state of Georgia to take all immediate action necessary to assure the overall well-being of Cumberland Island’s horses and to protect Cumberland Island’s natural and wilderness resources, including its endangered species and habitats.

Each of the defendants named in the suit has varying degrees of responsibility for the management of Cumberland’s natural resources and wildlife. They have permitted less-than-humane conditions to be imposed on the Island’s feral horses according to the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit further claims the defendants failed to comply with the Seashore Act, Wilderness Act, Cumberland Island National Seashore Act, the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 and violated the Endangered Species Act. These acts are meant to protect the seashore’s natural wilderness resources from impairment.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims the defendants are in violation of the Humane Care for Equines Act in the state of Georgia. And, in violation of a rule against Livestock Running at Large or Straying. This rule was established by the state of Georgia, Department of Agriculture. The entire complaint can be read here.

On August 1, 2023, Walter Rabon in his capacity as interim commissioner for the state of Georgia requested that the court dismiss plaintiffs’ claims seeking relief against the commissioner, compelling him to remove the feral horses from federal and privately owned land on Cumberland Island. A decision by the court is forthcoming.

In the meantime, the National Park Service – Cumberland Island National Seashore announced that superintendent Gary Ingram has accepted the superintendent position at Rocky Mountain National Park effective July 30, 2023. Current Deputy Superintendent Steve Theus will serve as superintendent until an interim is assigned and/or a permanent superintendent is hired.

Carol Ruckdeschel is one of the plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit to manage the feral horses and protect the natural resources on Cumberland Island. She has lived on Cumberland Island for more than 40 years. She was instrumental in the establishment of Cumberland Island National Seashore and its wilderness designation.

Carol Ruckdeschel is the subject of Will Harlan’s national bestseller “Untamed – The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island.” And she maintains the Cumberland Island Museum. The non-profit museum is on Cumberland’s north end and is dedicated to furthering knowledge of the island’s natural and cultural resources. The museum collects and archives specimens from the island and maintains a library of publications and articles. The collection and library are available for scholarly research by appointment.

People have been fascinated by Carol’s collection for decades. Smithsonian Magazine author T. Edwards Nickens paid the museum a visit back in 2001. He wrote a great article describing “The Bone Collectors” on Cumberland Island. You can read the entire Smithsonian Magazine article here.

Carol Ruckdeschel also is the author of the prize-winning “A Natural History of Cumberland Island Georgia.” The book is based on the author’s research and observations gathered on Cumberland Island since the 1960s. “It is the most comprehensive picture of the island’s flora, fauna, geology and ecology to date,” according to the museum website.

“A guide to the natural history of Cumberland Island could not have been written by a casual visitor, even one who has conducted meticulous research over a period of years,” says Kenneth Dodd, Jr., Ph.D.

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
9 months ago

Please save these horses and the natural beauty that is Cumberland.